Social prescribing within the NHS—is it too quickly to guage its worth?

  1. Debra Westlake, analysis fellow,
  2. Stephanie Tierney, senior researcher,
  3. Geoff Wong, affiliate professor,
  4. Kamal R Mahtani, professor

  1. Nuffield Division of Major Care Well being Sciences, College of Oxford, UK

NHS workers haven’t but had the chance to grasp the complete potential of social prescribing, argue Debra Westlake and colleagues

Social prescribing goals to advertise individuals’s well being by linking them to actions and teams of their neighborhood that may meet their non-medical wants. Over the previous 4 years, the concept has been taken up within the NHS as a manner to enhance inhabitants well being and scale back workload for different healthcare workers—notably GPs. NHS England rolled out social prescribing in 2019 as one of many six core pillars of its complete mannequin of personalised care.1 Normal practices have been inspired to make use of social prescribing hyperlink employees (SPLWs) by way of the Extra Roles Reimbursement Scheme. The scheme is because of be reviewed by NHS England in early 2024 when a call will likely be made on future funding.2

The idea of linking people to neighborhood help will not be novel. Nonetheless, for major care and not too long ago shaped built-in care methods, the tempo and scale of introducing SPLWs into the NHS is comparatively new. It’s affordable, subsequently, to ask whether or not sufficient time has been allowed for such a big and complicated programme to turn into established, understood, and evaluated earlier than its funding is reviewed.

Lecturers and researchers who’ve evaluated social prescribing programmes (together with our workforce) have highlighted their potential, however warned that the innovation is unlikely to characterize a “fast repair,” even when nicely resourced.3 Moreover, we could be anticipating “an excessive amount of too quickly.”4 Consequently, warning is required when reviewing the position of SPLWs in major care. We argue that 2024 will likely be too early to guage if SPLWs have produced ample advantages and warrant additional NHS funding.5

Why extra time is required

Social prescribing is a posh intervention set inside advanced social methods, and implementation fashions differ throughout organisations and areas.3 In line with normalisation course of principle,67 a posh intervention requires 4 elements to turn into a part of routine apply: the initiative should be clearly understood and distinct from different approaches (coherence); practitioners should imagine in and purchase into the innovation (cognitive participation); they have to know what workload modifications it requires and the way it suits with present apply (collective motion); and so they should assess whether or not it’s working as meant and if modifications have to be made (reflexive monitoring). Many GP practices are nonetheless on the coherence stage.

Healthcare workers usually want a clearer understanding of what a SPLW is and what their position could be in supporting work in major care.5 Purchase-in to the position from healthcare professionals continues to be being negotiated.8 Using SPLWs represents a radical change for the tradition of well being methods and the mindsets of execs and sufferers alike. Embracing a extra biopsychosocial mannequin of care, which considers the broader determinants of well being, won’t be a linear path. If SPLWs are to assist deal with entrenched well being inequalities, particularly throughout the present financial challenges dealing with the UK, they may want extra time and assets.

NHS England ought to think about that the programme has been in fixed flux. SPLWs have responded to quickly altering conditions in major care, together with endeavor work associated to covid-19, similar to supporting the vaccination programme.91011 This has taken its toll on the wellbeing of SPLWs and challenged the coherence and distinct nature of their work. Because the rollout of SPLWs in major care coincided with the pandemic, it disrupted their integration into present groups.910

Groups have additionally skilled organisational change that has shifted the timeframe for the rollout of SPLWs in major care and the maturity of social prescribing within the NHS. Many major care networks in England are nonetheless evolving and haven’t but established a transparent plan for the SPLW position.12 Built-in care methods, which have been tasked with planning healthcare programmes like social prescribing that bridge statutory and neighborhood sectors, are additionally nonetheless within the strategy of forming. They face many strategic challenges, together with recovering from the covid-19 pandemic and coping with a workforce disaster.

Studying by doing

The SPLW position and strategy takes time to develop, embed, and evolve. Nobody-size-fits-all blueprint exists, neither is it warranted as native groups will determine what works greatest for his or her space. Native programmes usually be taught by doing, however by 2024 they could not have had sufficient time for this individualised course of to have totally emerged. As groups develop below the Extra Roles Reimbursement Scheme, and as insurance policies and native circumstances change, the supply of social prescribing in major care will have to be reviewed. We all know, for instance, that the present value of residing disaster presents enormous challenges for probably the most weak individuals in society. SPLWs are experiencing an increase in referrals for help with housing crises, debt, and meals and gas poverty, requiring extra assets and other ways of working.

The proof for SPLWs is heterogeneous—together with throughout systematic evaluations.13 Consequently, we can’t but say if introducing SPLWs into major care has had its desired influence or not. Knowledge assortment is usually skewed in the direction of well being outcomes, quite than people who replicate the broader determinants of well being, together with social outcomes. A mismatch might exist between what SPLWs are supporting individuals with and the way any influence is measured and documented.14 Empirical research of SPLWs are below manner, together with a nationwide analysis15 and our personal analysis.16 These will present vital proof, however last findings won’t be reported earlier than 2024.

The deliberate 2024 overview of social prescribing dangers prematurely judging the SPLW position when it has not but had the chance to grasp its potential. The analysis timeframe must be prolonged—not less than for 2 extra years—earlier than key commissioning selections are made.


  • Competing pursuits: Debra Westlake is a co-applicant of the NIHR HS&DR funded research: NIHR134589 and trustee of a charity contracted by PCN to supply social prescribing. Stephanie Tierney and Kamal Mahtani are members of the Nationwide Academy for Social Prescribing’s Educational Companions Collaborative and co-leading a research funded by the NIHR on the implementation of hyperlink employees in major care (NIHR130247). Geoff Wong receives grant funding from a variety of funders, for the entire checklist see: He’s deputy director of graduate research on the Nuffield Division of Major Care Well being Sciences, College of Oxford, a board member of the NIHR Faculty of Major Care Analysis, UK, and member of the Marie Curie Analysis Funding Committee.

  • Provenance and peer overview: not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.

  • Because of Steven Markham (researcher) who mentioned this work with us and gave ideas on earlier drafts.


  1. Fixsen A, Barrett S, Shimonovich M. Weathering the storm: A qualitative research of social prescribing in city and rural Scotland throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. SAGE Open Med 2021 30;9:20503121211029187.